New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s remarks last week claiming that more African-Americans than whites should be stopped and frisked is emblematic of how corporate technocratic thinking produces a profoundly ill logic. Appearing on John Gambling’s show on WOR AM, Bloomberg asserted that because whites were being stopped and frisked 9% of the time and were only committing 7% of crimes, they were being unfairly singled out. He made this recommendation because he was making a facile equivalence between raw crime numbers and police interventions, the kind of bottom-line thinking that he feels justifies every bit of his arrogance.
A breaking Daily News story offers a statistical repudiation of Bloomberg’s comments:
The NYPD numbers showed 6.9% of the violent crime suspects were white — although whites made up 9.7% of the total number of people stopped. But The News’ review of NYPD data found police listed a “violent” offense as the suspected crime on little more than one-quarter of the 532,911 stops made last year — mostly for “robbery.” The rest listed “nonviolent” offenses like weapons possession, larceny, pot possession and criminal trespass. When the lesser offenses are included, whites comprise 13.8% all crime suspects in the city — meaning they were stopped too infrequently.
But regardless of the upcoming ruling on the stop and frisk trial, or the threat of a police monitor, the Bloomberg spin machine will no doubt continue to obfuscate: Societal and economic problems are reducible to analytic studies that use statistics as a model for social policy, and getting the crime rate down is simply a matter of increasing the number of stops of the targeted population. Besides an occasional massive “philanthropic” donation, there is little consideration given to a wide range of contextual issues surrounding crime, namely poverty, lack of affordable housing, and poor public education. This is the same sort of logic used to justify focusing primary education on improving test scores, and implementing charter schools that are run like a private sector business as a solution to educational deficiencies.
What’s worse, Bloomberg and Ray Kelly seem to be in tacit approval of a policy that places so much emphasis on statistical success that it creates a powerful incentive to rig the game. It’s the kind of cooking the books that seems like the only way for a hard working New Yorker to “get ahead” in both the private and public sectors.
Bloomberg’s subsequent doubling-down on his assertion is part of making the disinformation stick. A multi-billionaire who has made his fame and fortune through mechanically providing predictive stats to Wall Street firms and then using a media platform for both wealth creation and consolidation of executive power, the mayor has faced few challenges to his policies and pronouncements. Still, there is a small window at the moment for meaningful critique because it is a mayoral election year.
Can Anyone Speak English Around Here?
It’s fascinating how Bloomberg’s ascension to the elite (he is the 13th richest man in the world) covers up his mediocre elocution. He speaks in a flat Boston accent peppered with gaffes like saying “anywheres” instead of “anywhere” and on this particular radio show where the offending comments were made he says that the stop and frisk policy involves stopping a “disportionate” percentage of a particular ethnic group. To buttress the point he continues, “We disportionately stop whites too much and minorities to little.” Of his critics–in this case a mysterious unnamed publication–he grumbles, “I don’t know where they went to school but they certainly didn’t take a math course. Or a logic course.”
Would it be nitpicking, or elitist, for that matter, to wonder whether Bloomberg has taken an English course? It seems clear now why his Spanish is so bad, he doesn’t even have a solid enough grounding in his native tongue.
Watching the Detectives
Bloomberg’s stop and frisk policy is emblematic of the “preventive” crime methodology that is permeating, if not poisoning what passes for democracy these days. Uncritical commitment to a “pre-crime” strategy of predicting criminal intent and thereby stopping crime before it happens has the undesired effect of reducing all of us to either being an agent of law enforcement or a criminal suspect. This is at the crux of the George Zimmerman case, and is also the main rationale behind the NSA eavesdropping program, which tirelessly catalogues every single one of our phone calls, text messages, Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts, and the little handwritten notes your children pass to whomever they have a crush on in the third grade.
Ostensibly we should be relieved that this is Bloomberg’s last year as mayor, as well as vigilant to diminish the considerable remnants of his influence that will continue to endure. Especially since, like the Koch Brothers, he has invested so much money in the arts as to have an almost controlling interest. It will be interesting to see if and when Bloomberg’s continuing legacy becomes a major issue in this year’s mayoral campaign.